The full extent of the Reagan revolution in domestic policy is more visible here, across the continent, than it is Washington, D.C.
The meeting here of the National Conference of State Legislatures and the gathering a few days earlier of the nation's governors in Boise demonstrated unmistakably that the initiative on education, social and most economic and environmental issues now rests in state capitols rather than in the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
That shift is what Reagan set out to accomplish four years ago, and the extent of his success is measured by the degree of normality governors and legislators of both parties now see in a situation that truly is revolutionary.
Four years ago, when the first round of Reagan tax and budget cuts had just been passed, there was a rush of recrimination among the Democrats at the summer meetings of governors and legislators -- and a good deal of apprehension among their Republican colleagues.
Today, both the protests and the fears are muted. Despite the eruption of a brief but sharp partisan fight in Boise over the fund-raising letter Reagan signed for the Republican Governors Association, there is a growing convergence of views among leaders of the two parties at the state level.
What Reagan has done by curtailing the federal government's policy innovation and financial participation in most domestic policy areas is to make activists of legislators and governors of both parties. At meetings of those groups, you simply don't find the old-fashioned conservatives whose sole answer to any government policy question was: Don't do it.
For every inch Reagan has moved Washington out of domestic policy responsibility, he has created irresistible pressure for the states to move in. No one illustrates the phenomenon better than Tennessee's Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander, the new chairman of the governors' association.
When Reagan made it evident in 1983 that exhortation would be his only response to the newly rediscovered "crisis" in education, Alexander made Tennessee a leader in the wave of state-level innovations in school policy.
He not only talked reform, he and the Tennessee legislature enacted it -- and paid for it. "We've doubled the gas tax since I became governor," Alexander said the other day. "We passed the biggest tax hike in our history to improve the schools. I'm proud of it, and so are the people of Tennessee."
That same sense of governmental activism pervaded the meeting here of state legislators. Panels on hazardous waste sites, care of the homeless and the high cost of health care were thronged by legislators who serve on committees that must meet those challenges, with decreasing help from Washington.
They spent some time grumbling about federal policies, but most of their effort went into exchanging experiences and ideas. Even in broad economic policies, the state leaders recognize they are now operating increasingly on their own. The governors focused on strategies for expanding state initiatives in foreign trade; the legislators, on economic-development planning.
Paul B. Phelps, an official of the federal Office of Technology Assessment, a congressional agency, put the situation bluntly at one panel. Speaking of economic development, he said: "All of the innovations so far have been in the states. You have more to learn from each other than you do from anybody in Washington, D.C. . . . In the absence of a national strategy for economic competitiveness, state economic development plans will become increasingly important."
Few of the governors or legislators -- not even the Democrats -- expect to see Washington reclaiming its pre-Reagan leadership role in domestic policy. The prospect of unending triple-digit structural deficits in the federal budget forecloses any burst of innovative policy-making from Washington, even if a liberal Democrat should succeed Reagan.
The state officials now look on Washington as a threat to their own ability to meet the challenges they are ready to meet. The growing national debt and the worsening position of the U.S. trade deficit have pushed the United States into the status of a debtor nation, at the same time that most states find themselves operating in the black and putting aside rainy-day funds.
It is an ironic achievement Reagan has accomplished: he has empowered and energized the states at the same time that he has bankrupted and hobbled the national government. It may not be a great tradeoff, but it is certainly a revolution.